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What Works: Gender Equality by Design
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What Works: Gender Equality by Design

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  627 ratings  ·  75 reviews
Gender equality is a moral and a business imperative. But unconscious bias holds us back, and de-biasing people s minds has proven to be difficult and expensive. Diversity training programs have had limited success, and individual effort alone often invites backlash. Behavioral design offers a new solution. By de-biasing organizations instead of individuals, we can make sm ...more
Hardcover, 385 pages
Published March 8th 2016 by Belknap Press
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Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: managers, teachers, politicians, designers, behaviorists, marketers, women
This book was SO much better than I anticipated, and I am glad I happened across a recommendation for it. Iris Bohnet says in the back that this was a 10 year project, and in my opinion that shows in the level of concise, fascinating, and actionable material.

As a game designer, the details on how to affect behavioral change were delicious. She does a great job of setting up how each chapter problem generally manifests, common mistakes to fix it, ways change have backfired, and successful methods
Apr 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Best for schools or other large institutions looking for politically safe ways to reduce gender (and, to some extent, racial) bias. The relentless push for experimentation and measurement is unfortunately not especially practical for organizations too small to run experiments with any kind of statistical significance. However, for these smaller groups, this book can act as a conservative introduction to unconscious bias, and it does offer some specific organizational changes that have been demon ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
I read this book for my work book club, and and I took down a LOT of notes. My library didn't have a copy, so I bought my own, which I NEVER do, but now I'm glad I did it because I kept my pages tabbed for future reference. We had a really good discussion about Chapter 6, which is about interviewing and hiring, and it was so interesting to hear different teams' methods and what people think "culture fit" means. I think this book is best read slowly and as a conversation-starter. Each section is ...more
Christopher Litsinger
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
probably the most pragmatic books on changing organizational culture that I've ever read. Over the course of the book, Bohnet offers 36 research-grounded design suggestions for achieving gender equality in the workplace. The use of the word "design" here is intentional: Bohnet is a behavioral economist, and the book offers much in the way of behavioral design from that perspective. Bohnet presents a careful review of current research -- occasionally, this can be a bit dizzying as she walks throu ...more
Jen Watkins
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was right up my alley. The application of organizational design to this sticky topic was successful, even though I am not sure my organizational would move to implement her suggestions.
Jul 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, career, 2019
Bohnet posits 36 suggestions - all backed by research - on how to create increased gender equality in organizations. One of the main arguments of this book is that it is often too hard to change minds so organizations need to build in a structure that changes behavior and thus leads to greater equality. I really, really appreciated that Bohnet doesn't just cherry pick studies that support her suggestions. She's clear on contradictions in research findings, positive interventions that can backfir ...more
Olena Sovyn
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An actionable book that contains advices based on the research and data. Some of the outcomes become revelations to me as I haven't thought about them in this way. For example, that having only 1 woman in the team might decrease the productivity of the team as instead of creating diverse team woman is tokenised as representative of their gender instead of being sen as an individual with own point of view and experiences.

Highly recommend for reading for folks who want to learn more about producti
Dec 02, 2015 added it
Recommended to Elizabeth by: attended her Gender Initiative seminar at HBS
Shelves: nonfiction, gender
I saw the author present some of the highlights from her then-forthcoming book at a Gender Initiative seminar in December 2015 and became really interested to read the full book.

I was underwhelmed by the book itself.

First, she has a much more moderate approach/tone than I -- which I expect is somewhat by necessity, given the audience, but which put me off from the beginning. (I was also really put off by her use of the term "political correctness" in the "Crafting Groups" chapter. It's drawing o
Erika RS
Iris Bohnet applies ideas from behavioral design to gender bias in work, school, and politics. The book has a lot of good ideas and gave me a lot to think about. Overall though, I give it an average rating because the book's structure is not so great. If I were to want to try to use this in a practical setting, I feel like I would have to flip around for scattered insights that I vaguely remember.

The promise of behavioral design is that most people are not intentionally biased against women. Ho
Aude Hofleitner
Aug 04, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a good book going over a lot of research around what works (and doesn't) to reduce gender inequities. It is likely best as an introduction book but I was already familiar with a fair amount of this research. So while I agreed with most of the points of the author, I didn't feel like I was learning that much.
One of the important points is that it is hard to think in advance about all the consequences that actions can have and experimenting before fully committing to changes can avoid bad
Jan 31, 2017 rated it liked it
I thought this book was solid, and perhaps the best resource currently available in its topic area, given that it's an area that has been moving fast recently. The information is the best part about it. The weakness is in structure; it's information dumping in a series of paragraphs strung loosely together. Yes they are sorted roughly into chapters but I couldn't tell you what would be found where based on the chapter titles or overviews. Topic changes are not always signaled and there are few s ...more
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
The jolting examples of gender bias in the early chapters (the gender composition of US symphonic orchestras in the 70s and the case study analysis conducted by two groups of Harvard students) get your attention and would surely persuade the strongest of gender gap deniers that we have a problem. That said, this book left me contemplating bias in general, as much as gender bias.

How much of what we think and do is shaped by our biases (for better and for worse)? Turns out everything! Does that m
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: women
Quote: "Grieg demonstrated that a candidate's assertiveness had nothing to do with his or her performance, meaning the more assertive employee, but not necessary the best performer, was being promoted."

The first half of this book is utterly depressing ("things suck and there's not much we can do about it"). The next quarter is much more positive, but not quite enough to make up for the first half.

It's about 1/4 footnotes/bibliography, which I love.

Something I'm on the fence about: Bohnet makes l
Teodora Ivanova
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Loved every bit of this book.
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more than I did, and still see this as an excellent resource for folks just kicking off equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives at their company. Compared to similar books, this one is easy to read and presents actionable insights. Why this wasn't rated higher for me:

1. She writes advice for how the world is, not how the world should be. Similar to 'Lean In', Bohnet is NOT wrong to encourage women to, say, negotiate more for their pay. She IS wrong to stop there,
Lukáš Platinský
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you’re interested in the topic of equality (in general, not necessarily just gender inequality), this book presents a very compelling set of experiments and data showing the magnitude of the problem at both individual and society level. It then shows tips on how things have changed in different places around the world and proposes ways to apply these changes. These topics of human behaviour are often rather complex and hard to exactly measure and the book usually highlights these shortcomings ...more
Sep 21, 2019 rated it liked it
A useful book about the research around what motivates (and backfires) in organizations that have sought to diversify or who have been forced to do so by policy. The hard part is that the research findings are so varied, that each chapter ends with a set of bullet points, because it's not easy to pull out the lessons on their own. This isn't unusual for academic research, but I found it disheartening over all since many of the lessons were along the lines of, "existing power structures don't lik ...more
Jul 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: learn
While I'm currently not in a position that allows me to implement techniques described in this book, it was an interesting read. While some changes the author proposes are small, not so controversial and undoubtedly beneficial, I am still not entirely convinced about others such as the much disputed quotas for females on boards and in politics. Studies to support them are not so conclusive right now about them, but I'm curious to see how things go in countries that have already implemented them. ...more
Jan 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, own_it
Our society, education systems, work, all of it is designed in a way that favors men. But this is not on purpose. A lot of people have unconscious bias just because of the way they were raised or of the society that surrounded them. This book presents countless experiments that showed what we can do to change this and why we sometimes fail no matter how hard we try. I enjoyed the methodological way everything was explained, but at some point it felt repetitive as a lot of the experiments are sim ...more
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really useful book to be reading in my line of work (Diversity and Inclusion programme designer) with some really fantastic insights, a few of which are already well-known or common sense but many of which are new and impactful.

One star taken off for occasional redundancy - certain passages I felt were pointless as the point had already been made earlier without any new information given.

Overall though, a huge fan of Bohnet and I consider this recommended reading for absolutely anyone who's curr
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"Most of us declare ourselves for gender equality, and nearly all employers would assure us that their desire and intent is to hire the most talented employees. It is not unlike the majority of us who agree that eating healthily is a good thing. But when offered a choice between French fries and salad as a side, many of us select the fries - much like the employer, who confronted with a choice between a more qualified candidate and one who shares his love of baseball, goes with "fit" instead of ...more
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Can be a little dry at times, but a great data-based analysis of behavioral science and how we can harness what we know about how people behave to make the workplace fairer. I particularly like how she re-frames the zero-sum mentality that many hold about gender equity with a "100% talent pool" image. It seems like a much more positive spin on the saying that 'when you're used to privilege, equality feels like disadvantage.' Overall, a great and compelling read. ...more
Nov 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Took me awhile to get through this. Some interesting studies, but I felt like it was unfocused and wandered all over the place. If it weren't for the recaps at the end of each chapter, I would have a hard time defining take-aways.
The short answer is, there are some things you can do to neutralize your own biases (and those of the folks around you), but there isn't a magic bullet solution that fixes everything.
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
Really interesting insights. Diversity training doesn't work as we are all intrinsically biased, but designing in factors that will nudge people towards better behaviour does. Accountability also works - when we know we have to justify our actions, we make better choices as we are concerned by what others think of us. I've noticed some of the suggested changes in my own workplace already, but as always, more can be done everywhere. ...more
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A comprehensive and readable literature review across the fields of behavioral economics and industrial psychology.

Information-dense, with lots of specific recommendations. If you are in a leadership position of an organization and do not walk away from this book with obvious next-steps, you're doing it wrong.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
It’s taken me ages to read this dense, tightly packed book, partly because I have been reading it in work, with my morning toast and coffee, in 5 or 10 minute intervals, with maybe a train ride or two thrown in to make progress.
However - I loved it. It’s full of ideas, data, common sense, evidence, and energy.
I am going to pass it to anyone in power who will read it....
Pat Janes
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Compelling and thought-provoking book. Primarily concerned with gender equality, but additional and/or overlapping topics of diversity are discussed.

Presents research-based method from behavioural design to improve diversity and reduce inequalities. The research is thoroughly discussed, but always backed up with practical take-away recommendations to effect positive change.
Kiri Dicker
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book surpassed my expectations. I think a lot of gender specialists are a bit suspicious about what contribution behavioural science/design/insights/economics can make to the field but I urge you to read this. Like Iris says, behavioural design is another tool to add to our toolbox for change.
Steve Rentmeesters
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
Generally good discussion about solutions to differences in pay for the same job but completely misses the fact the major problem is gender differences in job choice and doesn't even mention that the root cause is more closely related to the fact that >90% of all on the job deaths are men. Wouldn't you want to be paid more if you were risking your life or injury? ...more
Mar 09, 2020 rated it liked it
I have read a number of books about unconscious bias, gender bias, big data and data analytics, so a lot of what I read in this book felt familiar. I found the chapter on job interviewing particularly interesting because all of my experience involved in administering job interviews has been the exact opposite of what she recommends.
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Iris Bohnet, Professor of Public Policy, is a behavioral economist at Harvard Kennedy School, combining insights from economics and psychology to improve decision-making in organizations and society, often with a gender or cross-cultural perspective. She is the author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design, published by Harvard University Press in 2016. Her most recent research examines behavior ...more

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“Controlling for a large number of additional variables, they found that firms with at least one woman among the first hires were more successful and stayed longer in the market than all-male start-ups.” 1 likes
“In their otherwise depressing review of the efficacy of diversity training programs, Frank Dobbin and colleagues found accountability to be one of the most important mechanisms related to the diversity of the labor force. Assigning responsibility for managing diversity to taskforces, diversity officers, or some similar committee was strongly associated with an increase in workforce diversity, including in the fraction of women.” 1 likes
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